The Work of Home

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention.  Of course, at the far right side of this equation of work and home, there’s a family that knows they’re loved and a home that is well-lived in.

The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and it is one of the most startling discoveries of my life that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

The importance of home and the words of Scripture that shape a right understanding of home are reason enough to spend two weeks pondering Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place.  Last week in Part I, we laid the foundation of God as Homemaker and the Bible as a story of homecoming, welcome, and longings fulfilled.  In Part II, Jen lifts her eyes from her own lunch-packing duties and makes this stunningly succinct observation:

“To love is to labor.”

She goes on to trace the connection between the routines of domesticity and the “quotidian mysteries” of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God.

In the parlance of Keeping Place, “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures:  ‘avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

Labors of Love

It is, therefore, possible to draw important conclusions about the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Just as Jesus is portrayed as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, the believer is called to a life of “two -dimensional” servanthood, directed toward God and offered to our neighbors.

2.  The “yawning attention” (131) paid to the details of tabernacle construction in Exodus also points toward care and provision for worship — a house for God.  In referring to my “home church” for the past twenty years,  I have spoken truer than I realized.  The welcome and belonging that my family has appreciated there has strengthened us, and, furthermore, we do our fellow parents a huge favor when we reinforce the same messages that they are speaking to their young charges at home.  In fact, research is revealing that “the most important predictor of whether children from Christian families keep their faith into adulthood is the number of multigenerational connections they enjoy at church.”  This statistic should be on a billboard at planning meetings for youth ministries.

3.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.  In the early church, one sure sign of a conversion to Christianity was a commitment to generosity and mission.  When Jesus put the spotlight on acts of service performed by the Good Samaritan, He underscored the truth that “a neighbor is the one who takes up the housekeeping.” (142)

4.  With marriage rates in the U.S. falling (In 2015, only 50.5% of adults were married), it’s time to look at the reasons why people marry and to equip prospective brides and grooms with tools for doing the routine work of marriage — frequent application of the words “I’m sorry” alongside the daily willingness to “keep choosing love’s bearing, love’s believing, love’s hoping, and love’s enduring all things.” (155)

5.  Keeping Place is a matter of being willing to welcome others into “our place.”  Gathered around the welcome of a prepared meal, no matter how simple, “the table is a burning bush.  Around the feast we are enflamed with the presence of God.” (163)  And is it not God’s way to spread a feast before His people?  We meet around a table and “the feast preaches” the gospel to our hungry and thirsty heart.

6.  The idea of Sabbath precedes the Ten Commandments in Scripture, and is connected from the outset with housekeeping: the provision of manna in Exodus 16 is scheduled to make room for Sabbath rest.  As the Author and Finisher of Home whose Son bore our homelessness, God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God.
Amen.

//

This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Last week I spent time interacting with Part I of Keeping Place (click here to catch up) in which Jen laid a foundation with the history of home and the place home plays in Scripture and in our understanding of the gospel. I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that it’s been a delight to linger over her words for two weeks.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

63 thoughts on “The Work of Home”

  1. Michele,
    What an interesting statistic about youth keeping their faith when in an intergenerational church community….hmmmm. In house keeping I can easily get into my “rut. Thank you for guiding my heart to make it an act of worship and a labor of love.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. I love that statistic — selfishly, because it confirms a bias I’ve had for along time about herding people into age specific groups for ministry, but also because my own kids have been so blessed by the love of my church family from all ages and stages of life. Hope you’re doing well, Bev.

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  2. What an interesting statistic – that keeping kids in church depends on multigenerational relationships. I bet that fact will be a surprise to our “oldies.”

    Avodah is such a wonderful sounding word – much better than housekeeping! The truth is we all have avodah duties because we all have ministry in some way. I also like Jen’s statement – “To love is to labor.” I can say I love you all the day long but if I do nothing to help meet your needs, is it really love? And sometimes, just listening and giving feedback is the best gift of love of all!

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    1. Exactly. And Jen shares a great story from her own mothering about how she hates packing lunches, but — of course — it is a part of life and a part of loving her kids. It would be a contradiction all the way to the bone to say you love your family and then refuse to feed them.

      Thanks, Jerralea, for your thoughts here.

      Like

  3. My favorite parts of your book reviews are always the part at the beginning, where you show glimpses into your daily life. I so appreciate you opening and sharing your heart and showing us what practical application of the Gospel looks like. God bless you and your family, sweet friend. 🙂

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    1. Ha! And that’s the part that’s always the hardest for me to write (and coming up with a title . . ). Thanks, Cheryl, for reading and sharing encouragement here. You are a blessing.

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  4. I do love homekeeping, Michele.

    Not necessarily cleaning. Or cooking for that matter.

    But the puttering that comes with all the little details of tending to my little haven. Yes, that I adore.

    I feel His pleasure in the midst of it all. Even if I haven’t wielded a mop in quite some time …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, Michele, so many good thoughts here today. I hear so much the importance of being intentional in relationship—within our families in our homes and in our church and in our communities.

    And this line? I loved it: “a neighbor is the one who takes up the housekeeping.” It reminds me of the importance of relationship with neighbors so we can come alongside to help when needed. Relationship is the first step in that.

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  6. I love this book…. really leaned in at #3, #4, #5…I love the way it is explained! Actually it is really inspiring and helps connect any missing dots for our generation I think. My husband and I were just talking about how hard marriage is and that it is only possible by (God first of course) and two forgivers. Thanks for sharing this friend!

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  7. Dear Michele,
    I have so appreciated your 2 part Review of this book! It’s definitely another one that I am adding to my wishlist. I love that thought that “to love is to labor,” and the Hebrew word, “Avodah” It is truly amazing to me how much symbolism God has used to tie together all of the aspects of our daily lives that point to HIM! I’ve been a housekeeper (or the newer version of that old word, “homemaker”) for most of my married life. I love how this book brings both of those words together and gives them such value. Blessings to you as you labor at your housekeeping!

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  8. your two-part review has convinced me to purchase the book. I love homemaking and consider it a vocation and this book gives that role greater depth, beauty and perspective. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us!

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  9. Always blessed by your reviews, Michele! Of all the roles i have had in my life, being a homemaker has likely been at the top of my list of things I take pleasure in. Yes, the crumbs are never totally gone and neither is the dust. Fingerprints are always on windows, coffee tables, and refrigerator doors. It all signifies that life and living is going on and as children moved into their own homes some of those little things that came from their presence in our home were things I felt wistful about.

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    1. Always blessed by your visits, Pam. Thanks for identifying with me in this crumb-sweeping life of dust bunnies and chaos. And I’m gonna miss the size 14 shoes in the living room this fall when the feet go to college with the boy.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The journey of keeping the house (and home) is interesting, I think. My 15th Anniversary is tomorrow and I’ve always liked a neat and tidy (without clutter) home, but at times, this isn’t easy to keep up with. I’m learning to recognize that it isn’t about perfection, but more about the heart. (Of course, that still means that I must do the chores with the children’s help)

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    1. Hi, Rosanna! I’m also a clutter buster, and I have an easier time keeping up with that than I do the DIRT that my kids (and 150 lb. St. Bernard) bring into the house. It seems like an endless cycle, but I hear your heart about getting the kids involved. Then we are training as well as cleaning!

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  11. It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life. It’s why you’re doing it. <— This one hit me hard I must say.
    And the mention of sweeping crumbs and dirt as an ongoing task (heaven help us…) akin to the way we're never done pursuing God and spiritual growth was a connection I had never thought of before.
    But the idea that we stay committed to our faith due to how many multi-generational connections we have growing up in church I think is absolutely true– I can reminisce on several seasoned ladies that took time with me outside the norm and families that made me feel welcome as a teen. It just makes this mentoring thing all the more important for the younger generation- from home keeping to serving and everything in between. Thanks for these lovely observations Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ” it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.”
    This was just for me. Finding “avodah” in the midst of mind numbing routine with my 3 year old triplets was a sweet note to my soul.
    Visiting you from #RechargeWednesday

    Diana -http://dianasdiaries.com

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  13. This post speaks so much truth. I enjoyed every minute of it. I agree. I must say homemaking is my most favorite job I have ever had or will have in life. Thank you for this writing because it revived my heart a bit to really appricate what I do even more. So happy to find this post from the homemaking party today. I will be saving this to pinterest

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  14. I’ve been fascinated by the concept of work for years now. I think I might just need to pick up this book. Thanks for sharing, Michele!

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  15. This reminds me of Brother Lawrence’s book, “Practicing the Presence of God.” He found joy and mission in the everyday tasks of life, as Jen has done. And a greater revelation of God in the process.

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    1. Yes, and I’m thankful that God does not make a distinction between “spiritual” work and “secular” pursuits. Anything we do for Him is infused with meaning and can aid in our spiritual formation.

      Thanks, Donna, for reading!

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  16. That quote about multi-generational relationships is so important and one, as church leaders,we’ve tried to live. Such a good post!

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  17. Hi Michelle,
    I know a lot of this now. It would have been a tremendous benefit to know it when I was younger. Particularly this statement:

    “The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and it is one of the most startling discoveries of my life that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.”

    I would moan and complain about being the “housekeeper”. Instead I should have used that time to prayer, and be at peace with what I was doing.

    Thanks for a great review,
    Janis

    Liked by 1 person

  18. So very interesting Michele- I had not heard of this one before – which really shows how much my mission to reach new & not-yet believers in a new generation has pulled me – I miss getting these little bits of encouragement and am glad you are sharing them with me, and so many others.

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  19. Hi Michele! I am first time visiting your site and really glad to stop by your post. You have rightly said, “it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life but It’s why you’re doing it.” Thanks a lot for sharing these nuggests of wisdom with us! – From # Inspire me monday link up#

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  20. Great review, Michele. Even though it’s nice to spice things up every once in awhile, I do love the mundane monotony of life. It’s a peaceful and safe place to be. I think it’s where the best memories are made, too. 🙂 For the most part, I have felt fulfilled as a homemaking, homeschool mom! Sounds like a great book – thanks for sharing at the #LMMLinkup!

    Liked by 1 person

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